Academic journal article Military Review

Religious Engagement and the Seventh Warfighting Function: Time to Stop, Listen, and Engage

Academic journal article Military Review

Religious Engagement and the Seventh Warfighting Function: Time to Stop, Listen, and Engage

Article excerpt

Why would you care about our religion?

--Afghan prosecutor, Helmand Province

Imagine yourself at a combat outpost in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in late March 2013, serving as an advisor to the local district prosecutor. One morning, you hear a barrage of gunfire. After the dust settles, you learn militants fired on villagers who were holding a peaceful protest to demand punishment for an Afghan police officer who had desecrated copies of the Quran at a local mosque days before. (1) You are concerned that anger over disrespect of Islam and the Talibans blaming of U.S. forces for the incident could lead to violent mob justice. (2) How do you proceed?

Religion remains one of the most important elements of the human domain in Afghanistan and in many other regions where U.S. forces operate. Soldiers need to understand religion's importance and develop skills for building relationships with communities where religion plays a central role. The U.S. Army needs to teach soldiers how to engage people effectively on this important topic. (3) The Army's engagement warfighting function concept is a step in the right direction. According to the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, the functional concept for engagement will help "institutionalize into Army doctrine, training, education, and leader development the capabilities and skills necessary to work with host nations, regional partners, and indigenous populations in a culturally attuned manner" (4)

This article endeavors to promote this change in the Army's approach to working with nations, partners, and populations by showing how religious engagement was used to build relationships through the Afghanistan/ Pakistan Hands Program. It provides recommendations that could help soldiers conduct this type of engagement in the future.

In September 2014, the U.S. secretary of state announced a new maxim for foreign policy: "religion matters." (5) Religion matters for the work of soldiers as well as diplomats. Soldiers need to know not only how to "shoot, move, and communicate" but also how to "stop, listen, and engage" especially when dealing with religious issues.

It is immaterial whether soldiers themselves be religious or have any personal interest in religion. What is important, however, is that they know that in many parts of the world, religion does matter--it can affect the operating environment, just as it did in Helmand in March 2013.

Understanding the religious beliefs of the people whom U.S. forces endeavor to influence through training, advising, or assisting is imperative in places where religion matters to those people. Engaging in religious dialogue, not to be confused with proselytizing, can create a vital bridge between cultures. It can show a desire to learn about and understand others, which is vital for building trust and respect--the pillars of any enduring relationship.

Breaking the Ice over Zam Zam

Religious discussions will be frequent. (6)

--T.E. Lawrence

I arrived at the district of Musa Qala (Fort of Moses) in northern Helmand Province on 19 February 2013.

A week later, I conducted a key leader engagement as a rule-of-law attorney with the deputy chief of police. (7) I greeted him in my limited Pashto. (8) I was unsure how to break the ice, but I knew he had performed the hajj because he carried the honorific Hajji in his name. Therefore, I asked him, continuing through an interpreter, how the water tasted at Zam Zam. (9) His face broke into a smile, and he asked how I knew about Zam Zam. I said I had read about Hagar, Ishmael, and the Prophet Mohammad, and that I respected his religion. (10)

The criminal investigative chief joined the meeting, and the conversation continued. I mentioned that Muslims and Christians shared many of the same prophets, including Musa (Moses), Ibrahim (Abraham), and Isa (Jesus). I said I was ahl al-kitab, or a "person of the book, (11) to which the chief replied that the Quran said they were to treat ahl al-kitab well, and that I must read many books A The conversation continued over kabobs. …

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